Former Oregon State star guard Sydney Wiese was in Corvallis last Monday afternoon, taking in practice and getting a look at what will be the 2019-20 version of the women’s basketball team.

The Beavers were practicing in preparation for their upcoming 10-day trip to Italy, where they will play four games. They began practicing on Aug. 7 and were scheduled to head out early Tuesday morning.

Wiese knows just how important this trip could be for the Beavers as they look to put behind a disappointing finish to the season last year that saw them fall to Louisville in the Sweet 16.

As she watched, she had a sense of déjà vu.

Wiese recalled the tough ending to the 2015 season — losing to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament — and how the Italy trip the Beavers took that summer helped them prepare for what turned out to be a run to the Final Four.

College teams are allowed to take international trips once every four years.

The comparisons are certainly there, especially with how both teams were going to be senior-laden.

“I think this team’s in a similar place where we have established leadership within our group, we’ve got some key newcomers just like we had that year,” coach Scott Rueck said.

Senior Mikayla Pivec agrees the case is certainly there to be made. She also knows this team has the same level of expectations as the one four years ago.

“I think this team’s hungry to want more next season and excited for all the new pieces that are coming along with the people here last season getting better,” Pivec said.

Getting an early start to prepare for the season is a big help in making that happen. The extra practices and games will give heralded freshmen Kennedy Brown and Taylor Jones the experience they need to make a big impact this season.

“These practices before Italy are a big opportunity to get our team on the same page and spearhead what’s to come for the season,” Pivec said. “We are putting in a lot of our plays, going over our terminology and how we communicate with each other both offensively and defensively so it’s nice to kind of get the freshmen a leg up and a jump start into the season.”

So far, the freshmen have held their own and impressed their new teammates.

Senior Maddie Washington said the best way to compare this freshman class is with her class that includes Pivec, Kat Tudor and Janessa Thropay.

“And yet again I feel like our class was just terrible in transitioning,” Washington said with a laugh. “But these freshmen are actually doing great. Like they don’t play like freshmen. They are playing very bold, they’re not scared to make mistakes. They’re willing to learn. They’re amazing. I feel like this is my favorite class of freshmen so far.”

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While it’s nice to be back on the court, it’s also a bit tough on the players bodies getting back into the swing so early. But Washington says it will be worth it in the long run.

“It was exciting betting to start early kind of seeing how everybody fits into the little puzzle as we’re still figuring out roles,” she said. “It’s going to take a few games and stuff but it’s great to have everybody here.”

It’s not just the experience the players and coaches gain on the court, but the bonds they will build off it.

It will be the second trip to Italy this summer for sophomore Jasmine Simmons, who competed in the World University Games for Australia and won a gold medal.

She said this experience should be much different.

“I am so excited I cannot wait,” she said. “It was so beautiful when I was there but I didn’t feel like we got to explore much because we were training every day and then playing. This time we only play four games and we get to explore as much as we want.”

Injury update

Tudor, who tore her ACL in early January, said she is progressing well but is still not able to fully compete in practices.

“It’s just fun to see her out here,” Rueck said. “You can see the confidence growing in her all the time. She’s able to go through shooting drills and stuff now. It’s been encouraging for everyone to see her come back, have that smile back on her face because she feels the progress as well.”

Rueck said 6-foot-9 freshman Jelena Mitrovic had her knee scoped a few weeks ago and everything is structurally sound and she is working to strengthen the muscles around her joint before she is able to get out on the floor.

Walk-on addition

Freshman guard Noelle Mannen, a walk-on who attended University of San Francisco last season as a student, has been playing a vital role so far in practice.

Rueck doesn’t usually have walk-ons on the team but with Tudor rehabbing from injury he thought she would be a good fit.

“She has been a great addition,” Rueck said of Mannen, who played for Valley Catholic. “She has come in and just held her own. Great shooter, tough as heck.”

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald